Extract from The Letter-Press Printer: A Complete Guide to the Art of Printing by Joseph Gould

Casting Rollers, &c.

It is not unusual, after trying every method to make a forme work properly without being rewarded with success, to exclaim, in disgust, "It is of no use trying to do good work without good rollers!" And, after having changed the roller, to ejaculate with pleasure, after the next pull, "What a difference a good roller makes!" Rollers truly are the most important implement, when type and press are good, to secure first-class work ; such being the case, no pains and no reasonable expense ought to be spared to have good rollers always at hand, especially in country places, where it is impossible to send to the roller-makers for a supply.

My views on this subject may not be in accordance with the opinions of some printers ; but those who have had sufficient experience with rollers and roller-making will, I think, agree with me. I would advise that rollers of different degrees of elasticity and tackiness be cast, and always kept on hand ; for, on account of the sudden changes in temperature which often take place, it will be found that a roller which works well one day will not give satisfaction the next, although it may still be in good condition it may either be too soft or too hard. It is therefore advisable to have others of a different quality to replace it. With spare rollers to choose from, a good quality of work may always be secured ; and rollers which may not be suitable for one job, or a certain temperature, will not be spoiled through the printer being compelled to use them under adverse circumstances.

I would recommend the following ingredients and proportions for hand-press rollers of different qualities, to suit any class of work and temperature :

6 lb. glue to 6 lb. treacle for springy tacky rollers.

4 lb. glue to 6 lb. treacle for a nice medium roller for use with good ink in temperate weather.

3 lb. glue to 6 lb. treacle for cold weather.

3 lb. glue to 7 lb. treacle is suitable for frosty weather.

It will be found that the above proportions, if the following instructions are properly carried out, will make rollers that are suitable for any description of work.

[Another receipt I have tried 6lb. of glue, 6lb. of treacle, and half-a-pint of glycerine appears to make most excellent rollers ; but whether they are actually more serviceable than those made without the glycerine I am not prepared to say. Having only tried the receipt for a year or two, I consider the time insufficient to thoroughly test it ; but I believe the glycerine answers the purpose for which it is used it prevents the surface of the rollers cracking.]

An ounce of Venice turpentine is also sometimes added, to give the rollers additional tackiness.

When Venice turpentine and glycerine are used, a smaller quantity of treacle than is recommended in the foregoing must be used.

As the strength of various glues differs materially, it is advisable to use the same description of glue for roller-making whenever new rollers are required ; for by so doing their firmness may be regulated to a nicety, as the pressman will become acquainted with the strength of the glue and the proper proportions of treacle, &c., it will take.

I would not have referred to the strength of glue, had I not latterly found such a wide difference between some descriptions. My last supply, which I have had in use a couple of years, takes the enormous quantity of 7lb. of treacle to 2lb. of glue to make a moderately soft roller! I have never experienced anything like this before.

To prepare glue for making rollers it must be soaked in water for four hours, if thick dark-looking glue be used if fine light-coloured glue, three hours will be sufficient; then drain the water off, and leave the vessel containing the glue covered till morning. Now put the glue into the melting-pot and allow it to melt thoroughly, then add the treacle, and boil gently for three-quarters of an hour, when, having previously oiled and slightly warmed the mould, and fixed the stock, the composition may be poured in.

Before casting rollers it is a good plan to tie a page-cord or thicker twine round an inch or two of each end of the roller-stock, by which means the composition will be prevented being torn off. After casting, remove the superfluous compo from the ends by encircling them with a piece of cord and pulling it till it cuts through. The rollers will be fit for work the day after casting ; but great care must be taken when working a new roller that it does not "drag" off the stocks or "peel." If it displays any symptoms of either, or of being too "green" a too "green" roller will not distribute properly and appears damp or greasy hang it up for a day or two, under these circumstances, in a current of cool air, after smothering it with common ink.

From beginning to end the greatest care is required. The proportions of glue and treacle must be properly regulated. While boiling the ingredients, the water must be kept well round the vessel containing the composition ; for, if allowed to fall below the level of the composition, in all probability the mass will be spoilt by the treacle "candying." The pouring into the mould must be done slowly, or air-bubbles may spoil the rollers ; and if boiled too little or too much, the composition will be rendered either too soft and tacky or too hard and suctionless. It will be well also to consider the temperature : a greater proportion of glue will be required in hot than in cold weather, and the reverse. But if rollers are kept made with the proportions recommended above, one or other of them will suit any temperature or weather.

For machine-work the rollers should not be made any softer than the proportions of 3 lb. glue to 6 lb. treacle will make them, even in cold weather.

Never allow the glue to soak too long, as it will take up too much water ; the water soon evaporates, and the rollers become too hard and dry to use for press. For machine, in addition to becoming too hard and dry, they shrink to such an extent that they will not roll the formes. Sometimes water is added when composition will not re-melt properly ; although it may make the composition " pour," the rollers made from it will be rotten, and will soon become unserviceable.

If made as here recommended, and they receive proper care and treatment, rollers will continue in good working order much longer than is generally supposed.

While speaking of roller-making, I may mention that during the Russian war I was engaged by one of our government printers to proceed to the Crimea as printer to the army. A complete small printing office was provided ; but the rollers seemed a knotty point being so far from London, how could they be renewed? The question being discussed, I suggested that I should be supplied with glue, treacle, and roller-mould, and promised I would cast our own. This was evidently thought strange, coming from a compositor. And I was asked, "How long can you make your own rollers last?" I answered, "Six months!" This was evidently considered impossible ; for Mr. observed, "We cannot make a roller serve six weeks!" If, however, the instructions here given are properly carried out, it will be found that hand-press rollers will keep good for at least the length of time I have mentioned, if the pressman has a variety, and is not compelled to use them for jobs for which they are not adapted.

I have already described the method of roller-cleaning which I consider best, under the headings Press and Machine ; and although there are many methods advocated for preserving rollers, I will mention but one, which, without doubt, surpasses all others that which I have seen adopted by London pressmen. When the roller is out of use it must be kept well smothered with common ink; and when again wanted, must simply be scraped. By this system, rollers will continue in good working order at least double the time they would do if regularly washed. It is recommended by many to keep rollers in a current of air. My experience in such matters has taught me that they keep much longer good if kept away from currents of air under stairs, or in cupboards.

Recasting Rollers.

Rollers that need recasting should be thoroughly cleaned by washing. If, through long use, the surface has become hard, it must be removed by scraping, and the ends of the composition cut off. The composition may then be taken off the stocks, cut into pieces, and thrown into the pan. If it be doubtful whether the old compo is good enough, it will be best to put a small quantity into the pan to try if it will melt properly ; if it does not, soak the remainder for half-an-hour in water, and strain. If it is good it will now melt ; if bad, it will not, and is only fit to be thrown away. After the old composition is melted, treacle must be added in the proportion of about a pound to six or eight pounds of composition. After boiling and stirring well for twenty minutes it should be poured into the mould. All surplus composition should be poured out of the pan ; and when required for use it must be cut up by itself, new compo. or treacle being added as necessary.

Text from The Letter-Press Printer: A Complete Guide to the Art of Printing by Joseph Gould
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